National Youth Conference – Is it worth it?!?
In June, our ministry will have the privilege to host the 29th Annual National Youth Conference here in Santa Clara. This annual conference requires a HUGE investment of time from the staff and church members of our ministry. In addition, there is a significant investment of money each year. However, I am not going to address whether or not we believe it is a wise investment for our church. Obviously, we do.
I want to focus on the work that it takes other local churches, pastors, and youth leaders to BRING a group of teenagers to this conference each year. Collectively, people spend thousands of hours and thousands of dollars across America in preparation to bring their young people to Santa Clara for this four-day conference. Is it worth it?!? I have had the opportunity to help organize trips like this in the past, and I know that it can be a LOT of work for the group leader. You have to advertise, promote, raise funds, talk to parents, convince teens that they want to go, answer questions, field phone calls, keep track of the medications that “Johnny” has to take, gather the funds from each teenager, help make up the difference for teens who can’t come up with all the money, line up transportation, recruit chaperones, submit registration forms, and the list goes on.
For the first year or two, it can be exciting to plan a trip like this. After you have done it for a while, if you are not careful, you may begin wondering if you should really invest all of that time to seek to bring the largest group you can from your church. You may decide to take the “easy” road, passing out a few brochures, making a couple of announcements, and taking whatever teens make the effort on their own to attend the conference. I believe this to be a mistake that will lead to eternal consequences in the lives of the young people God has entrusted to your care.
The pastor, youth pastor, or youth leader may ask himself,
Why should I work hard to bring a group to the National Youth Conference?
I would like to share a few thoughts to encourage you in your efforts to bring as many teens as possible to this conference or another conference, camp, or meeting like it.
- Souls will be saved.
Every year, we have scores of young people from good churches who trust Christ at this conference. Some are teens who are brand new to the church that signed up for the conference at the last second. Others are young people who have grown up in church. Through the preaching and convicting power of the Holy Spirit, they settle the most important decision of their lives. This conference many be the difference between an eternity in Heaven or Hell for a teen in your church!
- Your message will be reinforced.
Young people will hear other preachers that they respect and admire teaching and preaching the same things that they hear you teaching and preaching back home. A light bulb may go on inside your teens’ minds that maybe their youth leader really does know what he/she is talking about.
- Teens will see that they are not alone.
The Devil will use any and every tool he can to discourage the next generation from giving their lives to God. One tool he uses is peer pressure. Teenagers often think they are the only ones living right and they are missing out on the fun that all the “other” teenagers are having. A large conference like this will show your teens that there are still “three thousand that have not bowed the knee.” They are not alone. They have peers who are going in the same direction, making the same decisions that they are. This can have a powerful effect on a young person.
- Life-changing decisions will be made.
In addition to teens getting saved, we have seen thousands of young people make life-changing decisions relating to service, surrender, and separation. Teens have surrendered to preach, go to the mission field, or give God their lives; they have vowed to stay pure until marriage, give up something sinful in their lives, and add something righteous to their lives. Every year, hearts are softened, tears are shed, relationships are restored, and young people are changed. I know this is true. I was one of those young people. I attended this conference every year from seventh grade through graduation of high school, and some of the most important decisions of my life were made as a result of the preaching at this conference.
- Your church will be strengthened.
Every year, following our conference, I receive letters and phone calls from pastors and youth leaders telling me that their young people came home with a renewed fervor and desire for the things of God. They tell us that this zeal has permeated the church, influenced the adults, and helped to strengthen the entire ministry. It is amazing the power that a youth group can have on a church!
- Memories will be made.
As teenagers look back through their teen years in the youth group, often the memories and friendships made at conferences like these are the highlights that come to mind. They will remember the bus/plane rides to the conference, the prayer time with their youth leaders at the hotel, the activities, the skits, the competitions, and of course, the preaching. These memories will stay with them for a lifetime, and these shared experiences will help to forge a bond between you and your young people.
- Your youth group will grow closer.
It is amazing what a few days of uninterrupted time together can do for a youth group. This time will knit your heart to your young people and knit their hearts to you. It will open up avenues of communication, and give you opportunities for influence that you would not have otherwise had. When teenagers see their youth leaders put their lives on hold for a week to take them on a trip like this, it has a profound impact on them, whether they communicate that or not. It reinforces the fact that you really do love them.
- Eternity will be impacted.
The most important thing that happens through these conferences is what happens for eternity in the years to come through the lives that were touched at the conference. There are pastors, missionaries, teachers, staff members, and Christian servants scattered around the world who were called of God and whose lives were forever changed at our National Youth Conference. Just this past Sunday night, Cameron Giovanelli, preached the Sunday evening service at our church. He is the pastor of a dynamic, growing church in Baltimore, Maryland, that is reaching hundreds of people each week. As he preached, he told the testimony of how God called him to preach and pastor as a seventeen-year old boy at this youth conference. He told us that the teenager standing next to him at the invitation, also surrendering to preach that year, was a young man named Jeremy Kobernat. Bro. Kobernat now serves in our college, preaching in a different church across America nearly every week. I’ll guarantee you that the youth leaders in Rohnert Park, California, and Rockford, Illinois, who labored to bring their youth groups with young men named Cameron and Jeremy to this conference in 1996 have no regrets about the investment that they made. More importantly, the lives that have been touched and souls that have been saved through the ministries of these men and others like them tell us that, “Yes! It is worth it to bring a group to Youth Conference!”
We have no idea which junior high or high school young person at this year’s conference will one day be a mightily used servant of God in the years to come. We do know, however, that this conference will not have any of the effects mentioned above in the life of a teenager that is not here. Youth leader, it is up to you. Is it a lot of work? Yes! Is it worth it? Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes! Eternity will reveal that your investment paid unimaginable dividends.
I look forward to seeing you in June! Join us as we “Turn the Tide” for God!